Home Workplace Legislation/Press Releases Toxic workplace revelations at Manitoba Teachers’ Society trigger call for inquiry into leak

Toxic workplace revelations at Manitoba Teachers’ Society trigger call for inquiry into leak

by Local Journalism Initiative
By Maggie Macintosh | Winnipeg Free Press

One group of local union presidents wants the Manitoba Teachers’ Society to launch an inquiry into recent leaks that reveal MTS headquarters is troubled by a large number of administrative employee leaves and allegations it is a “toxic work environment.”

Anonymous posts criticizing leaders from both the union’s operational and political wings began appearing on Instagram on Feb. 13 via @teacherunioncorruption, a now-defunct profile.

Two weeks later, the Free Press published a report about low morale and infighting within the society, as well as the damning findings of a spring 2023 survey of the unionized workers responsible for running day-to-day operations out of its Portage Avenue campus.

More than half of participants indicated their office was psychologically unsafe, according to a poll conducted by Teamsters Local Union 979 that had a 65 per cent response rate.

Almost six in 10 employees reported fearing negative consequences from senior managers.

Insiders say there is disagreement among elected teacher representatives — who seek advice from Teamsters staff to resolve their classroom-based colleagues’ workplace concerns and disputes — over how to address the issues that have surfaced.

“In order to address the reputational risk to the society, we encourage the provincial executive to consider initiating an inquiry into whether or not breaches of confidentiality have occurred,” states one letter sent to MTS’s top decision-makers, a group elected by delegates at annual general meetings.

The March 7 letter was signed by local union presidents Jonathan Waite, Kent McPherson, Kevin Martens, Jay McGurran, Andrew McPherson, Jamie Shuhyta, Gregg Walker and vice-president Mervat Yehia.

The elected officials represent their teachers associations in Seine River, St. James-Assiniboia, Hanover, Louis Riel, Lakeshore, Lord Selkirk, Winnipeg and Thompson.

The signatories expressed concerns about MTS staff and executive colleagues ignoring their professional duties, speaking to reporters, and sharing “information that is not theirs to share.”

“Regardless of the validity of the information” published in an anonymous social media campaign and media outlets, MTS should uncover how breaches of confidentiality happened and take measures to bolster public trust, they noted.

MTS president Nathan Martindale was among the recipients of the March 7 letter, along with his colleagues on the provincial executive, including the society’s vice-president and 11 members-at-large. Martindale was not made available for an interview Monday.

The society needs to acknowledge there is a serious problem and consider bringing in outside mediation and conciliation to resolve it, said Charles Smith, an associate professor of political studies who researches labour unions at St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan.

Smith called the March 7 letter, which has yielded backlash within the council of presidents, “bizarre.”

“How can you go into bargaining and say, ‘We need fairness for our workers when your own union has been highlighted as not being a fair employer? And going after whistleblowers is the absolute wrong thing to do,” he said.

Andy Hanson, A Toronto historian and researcher who has been studying teacher labour relations since retiring from the profession, echoed those comments.

“The union cannot expect its staff to represent teachers who are finding themselves at risk, psychologically, unless it puts its own house in order,” Hanson said.

He added the short-term mess is likely to have a positive impact on the union and its teacher members in the long-term because all of its ranks will have first-hand experience navigating mental health-related workplace concerns that have become more commonplace after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Teamsters Canada spokesman Christopher Monette said Local 979 is “actively working” to address members’ toxic work environment concerns by meeting with the society’s leaders and lawyers, and filing grievances. Given a resolution is in progress, he declined to provide further details.

“That said, the Teamsters would staunchly oppose any attempt to probe the identities of the whistleblower(s),” Monette added in an email. “Looking for alleged culprits instead of solutions only stands to make things worse.”

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